Here are three little words that evoke lots of emotion in people: “high school reunion.” If we were to plot the 450 still-living members of my graduating class on a spectrum from “can’t wait to attend the reunion” to “would never, ever consider attending,” I bet no two would be on the exact spot. 450 people, 450 opinions. That’s exactly as it should be. Permission granted for everyone to feel the way they feel on the subject. That said, here is some research on the topic along with my personal location on the spectrum.
Regarding reunions, the Chicago Tribune has this to say: “If you think most people attend their high school reunions to recapture the good old days and renew old acquaintances, wake up. You’re definitely dreaming. The real reason most people attend their high school reunions is to find out how badly their former school chums have turned out, experts say.”
In an opposite but equally cynical manner, Mamamia, an Australian women’s media company, spins things this way: “The sole purpose of the high school reunion is to turn up seeming more successful and together than anyone would have ever predicted.”
Wow! These publications clearly did not interview me. I just attended the 50th reunion of University City High School’s Class of 1970. (It was Covid-delayed). I went there to experience the JOY of seeing and catching up with my old friends.
This first encounter of the reunion weekend sums up my experience perfectly:
Perhaps the two sources I quoted opened their stories with these zingers just to lure the reader in for a humorous read. Particularly in the case of Mamamia this might be so as they discuss the eight types of people who show up for reunions including “the cool person who never changed and will ride that cool person wave until the day they die.”
The Chicago tribune article, though, continues in a more serious vein: ”All that nostalgic blabbering about the years spent in high school being the best years of our lives is a lot of bull…For most of us, the years when we attended high school were the most dangerous times in our lives. All sorts of traumatic things happened to us back then.”
An article in Psychology Today written by Laura Martocci, Ph.D., responds to this sort of high school experience. Martocci is known for her work on bullying and shame. In her article, “Should You Go to Your High School Reunion?”, she gives ten things to consider. Her most powerful point is that “high school reunions are not in the business of redemption.” She says, “Even a more level playing field does not necessarily offer the opportunity for recognition or respect.” A perk she sees, however, is this: “Attending your reunion may empower you. It could offer you the opportunity to affirm your inner growth and ongoing self-story.”
As for me, I am a nostalgic blabberer about the years spent in high school.
When I was in the University City school district, there were about ten elementary schools that fed into two junior highs and then into one high school. The district was not very transient, so I was particularly close with the kids I knew since elementary school.
I was never part of the cool crowd. I left that job up to my brother, Rich, and my cousins, Loie and Margie. I didn’t go to the football games. Friday night dances were not my thing.
In spite of this, I had lots of friends, and I kept busy. Scholastically, I was the kid who did my homework and knew the answer in class. I often hung out in Mr. Hale’s room to do extra chemistry experiments. After school, I worked on the literary magazine, sold ads for the yearbook, and sang in the chorus for school musicals. Adding to the fun, I was a serial monogamist and had five boyfriends between seventh grade and my senior year.
Perhaps this is of vital importance: A calm home life was the foundation upon which all this was built. These were good years for me. My parents’ names were Rose and Morrie Kleiner, but you might as well think of them as Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.
A common reason for NOT attending reunions is that we are able to keep in touch with a wide array of former friends thanks to Facebook. This is true and a wonderful thing. Likewise, FaceTime and Zoom conferences are terrific. But none of this compares to seeing someone live and in person. Nothing compares to sharing a hug.
A final article on this topic comes from Psychology Today. It is written by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., who calls herself a reunion aficionado. She quotes longitudinal studies that show we live longer due to quality friendships. That being the case, she says, “I can’t imagine a more fertile ground for friendship than a gathering whose sole purpose is to connect people who have something in common.” She urges her readers to give their next reunion a try.
That would be my suggestion too. Bring on the friends! Bring on the hugs! High school reunions? I love ‘em!
P.S. Of my five long ago boyfriends, I am pleased to report that I got to hug Randy and Sandy! But what about Ben, Lucky, and Danny? They didn’t attend! What the heck, guys? Please know a hug awaits you next time.
Here’s my M.O.: I tell the stories of my life hoping others can find life lessons in them. AND I function as a cheerleader with the core message: Life can be difficult but you can handle it. Like these topics? Then try my books! They are all available on my Etsy shop. My newest book, Love, Loss, and Moving On, is also available on Amazon. And tell a friend!